What Parts Of Our Childhood Should We Keep In The Past?

Natalia Grosner
Remember that TV show you loved as a kid? Try watching it now, you might be surprised how much has changed. We glorify past decades — but is the nostalgia really worth embracing? Should some memories just stay in the past?
In this episode of Strong Opinions Loosely Held, R29’s Elisa Kreisinger explores childhood memories, inspired by this Refinery29 story by Vanessa Golembewski. In chatting with Golembewski about revisiting her favorite childhood game, Kreisinger explores if we should embrace the past, or if some memories are better off untouched.
Even positive memories can get tainted by our adult knowledge and experiences. Watching a favorite movie from childhood might show us that it wasn’t as funny as it was when you were six. More importantly, these explorations often reveal how outdated the material can be. With newfound knowledge, you might find that toy you loved so much was actually a little bit offensive. If we do revisit our childhood, what responsibility do we have as older, more socially conscious individuals, to acknowledge and critique the problematic aspects of our favorite childhood hobbies?
As Kreisinger recalls, “I don’t think of that time as filled with anxiety or peer pressure or whatever, it was very natural and carefree.” But, as Golembewski explains, “Despite how much fun Maria and I had calling fictional boys, we weren’t 12-year-olds in our pajamas at a sleepover on a Friday night. We were grown-ups at a table wearing adult-sized clothing. It was 3 p.m. on a weekday. Nothing was the same.”
Below, we chat with Kreisinger about the inspiration for this week's episode and her takeaways.
What is your favorite childhood game, TV show, and movie?
"I loved Dream Phone, Mall Madness, Socker Bopper, The Simpsons and the movie Clueless. In fact, I really tried hard to work in a Clueless reference into this episode but it fell flat. I realized I was adding it in purely for my own nostalgia needs. But I was really excited to work in the Lisa Simpson quote about being sarcastic. I also left in my home movie excerpts at the opening sequence. Reliving my favorite toy ads and TV shows reminded me how full of hope I was. I was so excited to grow up. I thought happiness was being a grown-up. It's funny/sad that now that I'm here, I'm looking back at what I think happiness actually was."
Who was your 90’s icon?
"Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. I loved how that show had three leading female characters. I wanted to dress like her, have similar powers and own a black cat. Looking back, I was drawn to strong female characters and I wish we had more examples of that in '90s pop culture at the time. That said, we did grow up post-Riot grrrl... While I would have loved to see more feminist or queer characters, I hate to think what it was like in the past with even fewer depictions than we had in the '90s. "
Do you have a memory from childhood you refuse to return to as a way of protecting it?
"No way. Nostalgia unites us all and makes us more human. The reliving of the past allows us to recognize our history and helps us feel like we have roots and continuity in our lives. It always made me feel good about myself, my friendships and family life and it comforted me during hard times. For women in our 20s trying to negotiate a life and career where there is little experience to draw from, nostalgia plays a pivotal roll in creating a strong base to grow from.
"There’s a scene in Pixar’s Inside Out where the heroine, Joy, is trying to preserve 11-year-old Riley’s memories by keeping them away from Sadness. I kept thinking of this as I was reading Vanessa's story. This concept of keeping core memories positive as a way of protecting them is so essential to growing up and moving into adulthood."
Do you think there is a responsibility to re-examine things from the past and evaluate them in the context of today’s cultural awareness? Or should we leave the past alone, with understanding that we have changed as a culture?
"There's always a responsibility to look back at the games we played and shows we watched because they help us learn who we are as individuals and as a culture. In talking with Vanessa, I realized just how problematic Dream Phone was for me: it was heteronormative, I never got to have a conversation with any of the boys on the other end of the phone and it pit my friends and I against each other for the same guy. It doesn't diminish the memory of the game but it helps me answer questions as to why I reacted certain ways with my girl friends or never challenged heterosexuality until college."
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